How to Pick a Healthier Cereal

A few tips for how to read between the lines when you shop for cereal and choose healthier ones among the huge selection out there.

Cereal is one of my favorite breakfasts. It’s tasty, it’s quick, and it’s inexpensive. But with dozens upon dozens of choices making a variety of health claims, the cereal aisle can be a confusing place. It’s easy to pick a healthy box – if you know how to wade through the marketing hype on the front and read the nutritional information on the side panel.

Whole Grains:
To boost satiety, choose cereals made with whole grains. Whole grains are digested less quickly than refined grains and don’t trigger the same blood sugar spikes (and eventual crashes). It’s a good idea to know the lingo – a claim of “Whole Grain” means half the grain ingredients are unrefined; “100% Whole Grain” means that all the grains are whole. Look for about 16 grams of whole grains per serving.

Seek out cereals with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. The fiber content is closely related to how satiated you’ll feeling after eating your bowl of cereal. Plus, fiber has numerous health benefits, like improved digestion and lower cholesterol levels.

If sugar is the first or second ingredient on the list – be careful. Ingredients are listed in order of quantity, so if any version of sugar is towards the front, it’s a bad sign. Choose a cereal with less than 10 grams per serving.

Fake Stuff:
Skip cereals with artificial colors, dyes, and sweeteners. These fake ingredients are especially popular in kids’ cereals but can also lurk in adult ‘diet’ cereals.

If you have high blood pressure, there’s a history of heart disease in your family, or your doctor has advised you to follow a low-sodium diet, check out the cereal’s sodium content, too. Even super-sweet cereals can be packed with sodium; opt for a cereal that has less than 250 milligrams.

Serving Size:
Some cereals provide more volume for the same caloric buck, which can trick your brain (and belly) into being more satisfied. The first time you pour a bowl, use a measuring cup so you know what ¾ cup or 1 and ¼ cup of cereal looks like in your dish. It’s not necessary to measure out cereal every time, but especially with more calorie-dense cereals (like granola), it’s pretty easy to go overboard if you’re not careful.


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